Robocop + Groundhog’s Day= Surprisingly epic entertainment
Not often does the hero of an action film die within the first twenty minutes of the movie. By the twenty minute mark of Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, the main character has died a hundred times. The film features Tom Cruise as Major William Cage, the US military’s head of media relations during the apocalyptic wars following an alien invasion in the near future. Cage is a “professional inspirer”, expertly working TV and press events to recruit soldiers for the desperate and depleting army. Unfortunately, due to a regrettable train of events, Cage is labeled as a deserter, bumped down to army private status, and immediately shipped off to the front lines of an aggressive strike against the alien fighters, or “Mimics.”
A terrified and ridiculously inexperienced Cage stumbles around a beach battlefield reminiscent of D-Day, while doomed human soldiers drop like flies around him at the hands, or tentacles rather, of the Mimics. The Mimics themselves provide the movie with ruthless and menacing antagonists, but their scariness is sometimes undermined by the fact that they look more like angry tumbleweed on steroids than the new dominant species on Earth. By sheer luck Cage manages to shoot and destroy a blue Mimic before having his face melted by another attacker. However, instead of dying, Cage wakes up to realize that the same day is restarting. This painful day continues to repeat itself over and over again, with Cage jerking awake every time he gets killed in battle, whether he is trampled, exploded, or pounded by a Mimic. Eventually, Cage comes upon the world-famous Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski, played by a tough and irresistible Emily Blunt, who explains that his time loop is linked to the rare blue Mimic he killed. The film never really breaks out the charts to explain the details of this phenomenon, which is fine because the audience is more than ready for the butt-kicking action to begin. Vrataski makes it clear that Cage’s personal reset button gives the humans the one slim chance they urgently need to fight back against the far superior alien invaders.
The story thankfully doesn’t overcomplicate the idea of the time loop, allowing the underlying concept to remain simple, yet clever. The style of the film is treated like a video game, in which the characters have endless lives and must memorize the exact sequence of their actions in order to survive the day and retaliate against the Mimics. Despite Cage’s effectual invincibility, the film is able to maintain the peril of each dangerous situation and manages to keep the audience invested in the plot.
The movie employs a morbid, but often hilarious sense of humor, from the deadly banter between trigger-happy Vrataski and the perplexed Cage to several montages of over-the-top and unexpected fatalities. But the brilliance of the film is that as we get to know the characters, their personalities and vulnerabilities, each temporary death begins to hurt more and more. And when Cage’s reset ability is eventually lost, the atmosphere of lightness and humor is quickly replaced with one of tension and desperation.
Edge of Tomorrow blasts past the mediocre expectations generated from its ambiguous trailer, thanks to sharp direction and a great story idea. Both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are at home in their roles, with natural chemistry that doesn’t feel forced, and they manage to be at times both funny and heart-wrenching. The supporting cast, including Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson and Jonas Armstrong provide the perfect mix of grittiness and dark humor that color the tone of the film. While Edge of Tomorrow may not provide much in terms of uplifting themes or emotional take-a-ways, the tense action and unsettling aliens will undoubtedly be a hit with summer audiences and tumbleweed fans everywhere.